strange (and sad) juvenile starling behaviour


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Wildlife questions

strange (and sad) juvenile starling behaviour

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We always have lots of starlings visit our garden and they bring their young to feed here.  Last week my husband found a dead juvenile starling in the garden when he got up.  It had no marks on it (definitely not been predated) and no obvious cause of death.  A couple of days later a juvenile was struggling to get in the air, lots of flapping but only managing to get a foot or two in the air.  After several hours of this, night was closing in and we tried to catch him.  He was very nippy and as we have lots of ground cover and thick bushes that he kept going into we failed miserably.  Eventually he came out of the bush and managed to gain enough height to get over the fence and into some trees a few feet away.  The following day he returned and I tried to once again catch him, this time he got out of the garden and I thought he'd improved.  However, the following morning he was back, looking very wet and miserable and other starlings were pecking at him.  This time I caught him in a matter of minutes and took him to our local wildlife hosp.  There, no problems were found with his wings, he was perching fine and eating well all day.  However,by the following morning he had passed away - no apparent cause. 

This week exactly the same thing has happened.  Yesterday morning a youngster was flapping a foot or so off the ground, but after a while managed to scramble onto the fence and from there glided downwards towards the bottom of the nearby trees.  By the time I got there, there was no sign of him.  Tonight, in the heavy rain, I saw him sat in the bush and when I approached he fluttered across the grass.  He wasn't getting more than a foot off the ground though and after an hour or so I managed to catch him.  Had I left him in the garden he would be likely to be predated as there are several cats in the area that lurk in the garden at night and next doors cat is let out every morning at 5am.  Also it has been bucketing down and stormy here, with similar weather forecast.  As there is nobody home at the wildlife hosp he is at present in a box with hay in the bottom waiting for morning so I can drop him off (if he's still with us).

Has anyone any idea what this could be?  I have been looking online all night but can find no disease that would produce these symptoms.  I am very worried in case there is a 'problem' that might spread.  We literally have 100's of birds in the garden every day and lots of them are feeding young.

All Replies
  • That is worrying Debz, did you offer it anything to eat and if so did it eat?  It is possible given the foul weather they may be starving and not able to keep warm or they have been exposed to a toxin of some sort - thinking rat poison or mouldy grain/food.  There was an episode last year of birds dying somewhere in Scotland and one of the forum members was able to find out that it was a form of food poisoning I seem to recall.

    Caroline in Jersey

  • Very strange and sad. I think Caroline may be right with her thoughts. It doesn't take much for a young bird to starve and with the unseasonable weather they would likely succumb quicker than usual.

  • Yes Alan, I have lots of starlings all year round too (approx 200 over winter) with lots of fledglings last year, and I too have never seen one unable to get off the ground, very perplexing.  Perhaps I should also say for the record that these sick juveniles are not freshly fledged - they have lost that dumpy, no-necked look that the dependent babes have and are nice and sleek looking.

    As for food, both of the 'flightless' juveniles were seen to be eating normally on each of the days I saw them in the garden - I go through a mountain of food every day - most of which the starlings grab! EG 1.5 - 2 kg each of cheese, sultanas and suet pieces per day, in addition to various seed mixes, coconut halves, fat blocks, as well as 2 loaves of wet brown bread per day, 3kg of mealworms per month, and for the last couple of days scrambled eggs for breakfast.

    Caroline and Andrewa - I put him straight in the box without food - he was very stressed after being chased for an hour and it was after 8pm, he was also very wet, but the first time I saw him (scuse the sexism) it was a sunny warm Thurs morn and he was bone dry and only managed to get on the fence via bouncing up the buddleia.   This a.m., I am pleased to say, he was still alive and woke me by tapping on the box.  I peeled back part of the box lid and covered it with garden netting and he ate some cheese, sultanas, suet and worms - even getting used to my presence after a few mins.  He is now at the wildlife hospital, so fingers crossed please.  Having ruled out starvation and/or being cold and wet I am at a loss as to why these two birds could not fly, despite flapping their wings.  I suppose that poison is possible, but wouldn't there be more of the flock suffering in the same way?  I know my food isn't out there long enough to get moldy - I'm out there 5 or 6 times a day, rinsing out feeders each time and disinfecting once a day.

    Thanks for the thoughts :)                                                  

  • Actually Alan, that was my first thought for the juvenile we found dead on the lawn, internal injury and crawled away.  As for the other two they were both very fast on their feet.  The first of these seemed pretty fit for the first two days then the third day he was all forlorn looking, and just standing around, which is how I managed to catch him.  The wildlife hospital could find no signs of illness and after a whole day there eating and perching as normally as you would expect, he simply died overnight with no suggestion of why.  Yesterdays bird was still very feisty when I caught him, actually it took 3 of us just over an hour - he seemed very fit, just not taking off when he flapped.  I can't see how he could out run 3 of us for all that time if he had internal injuries.

    Because of the number of birds feeding in our garden I have opaque strips of plastic across the back windows and this has limited the number of bird strikes - only 2 (blackbird and pigeon) in the last year - both flew away.

    There are tall conifer type trees behind my garden with branches starting a foot or so off the ground and the starlings tend to sit in these (when they're not in my trees) and glide down into my trees.  Both birds were jumping into my bushes and hopping to the top then flapping from the top - not as gormless as they look huh?  Both could gain some height, but only a couple of feet!

    I am just so very worried that there is something contagious either caused by something in my garden or being passed from bird to bird in the garden.  I cannot find anything though that causes a loss of flight - after previously (presumably) being able to fly.

    My daughter has just suggested a congenital defect (with the 2 birds being siblings maybe) from too much inbreeding!!!!!!!!

  • yes, I absolutely agree about the poison, unless they make species specific poison - and again - very feisty and I would have thought that any poisoning would make birds noticeably sick and although I'm certainly no expert the local wildlife hosp is - and they could see nothing physically wrong.

    I suppose I was hoping that there might be a really simple reason (and solution) that I was just too dopey to have thought of - or that someone more experienced (only my second year in 'actively' feeding the birds) might have come across this before.

    I just don't want to see more sick birds, especially with the really bad rain we have at the minute - expecting ducks and swans quite soon ;) am already overrun with black-headed gulls and the odd lesser black backed gull!  Also, don't want to have to stop feeding cos of all the adults who are still leaving with beakfulls of food.

    But thanks for taking the time to think about it and reply.

  • well - I thought I'd give you a brief update.  I rang yesterday to find that my little fellow is still very lively and apparently eating the wildlife hosp out of house and home.  The thinking is that he may have strained a muscle.  Tomorrow he is going into the aviary for a test flight to see how he fares.

    If it isn't going to be possible to return him to the wild I am thinking of keeping him myself (as the wildlife hosp struggles to keep all those unable to be returned to their natural habitat) although I'm not too sure whether starlings need any special care.  Fingers crossed that he's able to fly.